A decade ago, Nikki Haley was a little-known backbench South Carolina legislator from Lexington who no one thought could win a governor's race.

Now, her job changes are international news.

In between, the daughter of Indian immigrants made herself into the new face of the Republican Party when she surprised many by beating political veterans to become the nation's youngest governor in 2010.

The surprises continued when she held her own at the United Nations, despite the lack of foreign policy experience possessed by many of her predecessors.

Watching Haley since she became governor is an exercise in seeing how she turned the unexpected into success.

Her first years as governor were not always easy. Carried into office by the Tea Party, she liked to throw punches. Some hit, but others missed or only hurt her. 

But Haley grew into the job, mellowed and found a niche as a economic development recruiter and advocate for the rural areas, like her native Bamberg. 

She caught people off guard by turning the mass shooting of a pastor and eight members of his congregation at Emanuel AME in Charleston by a white supremacist into a cause to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. It worked. 

Again, she was the face of a new Republican Party, one looking to appeal to more diverse voters in time for the 2016 presidential election.

She found a foil in real estate mogul Donald Trump during the presidential primary, calling him out over his angry, divisive words. She backed Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents were immigrants like hers.

But Trump won, mocking Rubio along the way.

Again, it was a surprise that after backing Trump during the general, he offered her the ambassador's seat at the U.N.

Haley, the lame duck governor, resigned and went to New York.

A politician known for making peace in her home state was given the job of keeping peace worldwide as ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley was expected to struggle on the large stage with an untested skill set. But with simple messaging, some charm and humor, and the occasional verbal jab, her tenure has been considered a success. 

Haley stood out in the administration because her original wingman on foreign policy, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was reluctant to court media attention. While she might not have pleased everyone on her stances (backing moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem), she filled the void with the poise brought from Columbia.

Reports indicated the media attention she received was not always welcome by the White House, but she did enough right things (penning a response to anonymous column that claimed insiders actively worked against the president) to remind the commander that she was loyal.

Now with Mike Pompeo, a stronger secretary of state, in place Haley has become less visible.

It was a good time to leave just like when she was governor. Haley departs with a cleaner record than others who have left the Trump administration, something that should help her in the future. 

Why she's leaving is something only she can reveal because she keeps a close, small group of advisers. 

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She talked about observing term limits while seated next to Trump on Tuesday, but she is now leaving her second job in a row midterm.

Still, if she stayed in South Carolina, she would have left the governor's office because of term limits at roughly the same time she's exiting New York.

Next year will mark her first in nearly 15 years she will be out of public service. She's already alluded to returning to the private sector.

Taking a look at her finances, thousands in credit card debt and a huge tapped credit line, she could stand to make some money.

Haley will find plenty of folks willing to hire her, including businesses she wooed as governor. 

But a logical next step after an arc that has taken her from the Statehouse to the Governor's Mansion to the United Nations is the White House.

She's an appealing candidate. A well-connected former governor with foreign policy experience who could be (again) a new face of the GOP.

Haley always demurs when asked about 2024, but she has not been one to show her hand early. 

Just look at what happened Tuesday. Her departure caught almost everyone off guard from New York to Columbia.

Haley likes to surprise people. It's likely more will come.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.